Tag: public service cuts

Grenfell is a horrific consequence of a Conservative ‘leaner and more efficient state’


Hayley Dixon write in the Telegraph today: “A litany of failings in building regulation and safety rules have left residents in tower blocks vulnerable for decades. Despite constant warnings from fire experts, nothing was done to improve fire-proofing standards, or even review the current situation.” They present eight times that the victims of Grenfell Tower were let down.” 

These were:

Until 1986 all buildings in London fell under the London Building Acts which ensured that external walls must have at least one hour of fire resistance to prevent flames from spreading between flats or entering inside.

But under Margaret Thatcher’s government, those rules were replaced by the National Buildings Regulations and the crucial time stipulation was scrapped.

Instead, materials used on the outside of buildings now only had to meet ‘Class O’ regulations and show that they did not add to the heat or intensity of a fire. But crucially they did not have to be non-combustible. For the past three decades fire safety experts have warned that the ‘Class O’ designation was based on small-scale tests conducted in laboratory conditions and did not properly evaluate cladding in a live fire. A recent London Fire Brigade investigation into the fire at a tower block fire at Shepherd Court in West London in August 2016 found that external cladding had helped the fire to spread.

They found that when exposed to high flames the metal sheet of the cladding had melted away, setting the inner polystyrene foam on fire and allowing ‘flaming droplets’ to fall onto lower floors while helping flames to spread higher up. Fire chiefs wrote to every council in London to warn them of the dangers but no action was taken.

Dangerous cladding

A leading fire safety expert warned Government advisors three years ago that a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower inferno would happen unless they changed rules to ban cheap, flammable insulation used on the outside of buildings.

Arnold Turling said the Grenfell blaze was “entirely avoidable” and that a gap between the panels acted as a ‘wind tunnel’, fanning the flames, and allowing the fire to spread to upper levels.

Turling, a member of the Association of Specialist Fire Protection, said: “Any burning material falls down the gaps and the fire spreads up very rapidly – it acts as its own chimney.”

White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower
White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower CREDIT: EPA

Three years ago Tarling, a chartered surveyor, addressed the British Standards Institute’s seventh annual fire conference in London, at which government fire safety advisor Brian Martin was present.

“I said we will have this type of cladding fire in this country and it will lead to large numbers of deaths,” he said.

It emerged last night that the United States had banned the type of cladding thought to have been used on Grenfell Tower. 

The material used on Grenfell Tower was sold under the brand Reynobond which comes in three different varieties: one with a flammable plastic core and two with fire-resistant cores and the cheaper, more combustible, version was banned in the United States in buildings taller than 40 feet. 

It is thought that Grenfell’s exterior cladding, added in 2015, had a polyethylene – or plastic – core but conforms to UK standards.

Reynobond’s fire-resistant panel sells for £24 per square metre; £2 more expensive than the standard version.

Following the Shepherd Court fire, insurer RSA wrote a report warning that flammable material in insulation panels “melts and ignites relatively easily”, and can cause “extremely rapid fire spread and the release of large volumes of toxic smoke”.

They concluded: “This allows extensive and violent fire to spread, and makes fire fighting almost impossible.”

Architect and fire safety expert Sam Webb said there was a “conflict” between fire safety and the materials that are used to make buildings more energy efficient.

However Harley Curtain Wall Ltd said that it had installed cladding, with polyisocyanurate inside, a material which is “better than most at resisting fire in tests.”

No government review  

After six people died in the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group called for a major government review of building regulations. Sucessive ministers since 2013 have said they are still looking at it.

They argued that 4,000 tower blocks across London were at risk because of a lack of fire risk assessments, and panels on the outside walls not providing the necessary fire resistance.

The coroner on the Lakanal House inquest also recommended the government simplify regulations relating to fire safety so they were easier for landlords to understand.

Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London
Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London. CREDIT: GETTY

In 2013, then communities secretary Eric Pickles responded to the coroner’s recommendations and promised a review with an updated version of building regulations published in 2016/17.

However, four years on and no review has been completed despite assurances from former housing minister Gavin Barwell, who is now Theresa May’s chief of staff.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the work is “ongoing” and would not give a date for when the updated regulations will be published.

A single staircase

Residents in Grenfell Tower made repeated warnings that a single staircase was their only means of escaping the building.

Despite safety concerns of experts, tower blocks in Britain still only have to have one staircase, leaving Britain out of step with other countries in the world.

Russ Timpson, of the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Network, said his “foreign colleagues are staggered” that there is no requirement for a second staircase as he called on the Government to look again at fire safety regulations.

Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower
Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: EPA

Residents fleeing in Tuesday night’s blaze complained that stairways were blocked, full of smoke and had no sprinkler systems fitted. Firefighters also struggled to get to the upper levels.

Ronnie King, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group, said: “The staircase should have been protected route for firefighters and people escaping but it was clear that it wasn’t.”

The flats had recently been refitted and fire experts warned that gaps in the walls where new pipes were installed could have allowed flames and smoke to spread quickly through the communal areas.

Missing sprinklers

There was no central sprinkler system at Glenfell which members of the Fire Protection Association said would have “undoubtedly” saved lives.

MPs from All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group also said that MPs had been calling for sprinklers to be fitted on the outside of tall buildings for years, but said their calls have been ignored.

Currently, sprinklers only need to be fitted up to 30 metres, but in tall buildings like Grenfell it is impossible for fire hoses to reach the upper heights, leaving the top floors without any protection.

An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower
An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: AFP

The Fire Protection Association said more sprinklers would “undoubtedly” have saved lives.

 

“Whether they’d have stopped that fire spreading at the speed it did up the outside of that building is another matter,” Jon O’Neill of the FPA said.

“But to have had sprinklers in that building would have created an environment where it would have been easier to rescue people and increase survivability.”

However in 2014 housing minister Brandon Lewis stopped short of forcing building developers to fit sprinklers, over fears it could discourage house building.

He said at Westminster Hall Debate: “The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building – something we want to encourage.”

Missing fire doors

London Fire Brigade said claims that doors were not fire-proofed would form part of its ongoing inquiry.

Two separate sources have told The Telegraph that not all the front doors in the tower block were fire-proofed. Official fire brigade advice to stay put in the event of a fire is based on fire doors offering protection to residents told not to leave the building.

Fire doors are designed to stop the fire spreading rapidly through the building rather than being “compartmentalised”.

A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower
A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: GETTY

Regulations state that all tower blocks being built must have fire doors on the flat, the stairwell and the riser doors, which give access to the pipes.

 

Building regulations are not retrospective, so cannot force the installation of modern equipment on old buildings.

However, Richard Brownlee, Managing Director of Surrey Fire and Safety Ltd, said that it would be expected that fire doors were installed as part of any refurbishment and installation would be recommended as part of any refurbishment.

Inspections

According to information released by Kensington and Chelsea Council under the Freedom of Information Act, the last time that Grenfell Tower was subject to a full Fire Risk Assessment was December 2015.

There is a requirement for every building to have regular fire risk assessments, but the amended regulations do not specify how frequently this should take place. Industry experts say that best practice is every 12 months.

It is also a requirement to have a fire risk assessment carried out if there is a “material change” to the building. The regulations do not specify how soon that inspection must take place.

The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted 'material change' 
The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted ‘material change’.  CREDIT: JULIAN SIMMONDS

The refurbishment to Grenfell Tower was completed in May 2016 and yet it does not appear that any safety checks were carried out, even though the new cladding work consisted of ‘material change.’  

Firebreaks

Fires on outside of cladded buildings should have been controlled by firebreaks – gaps in the external envelope to prevent the continual burning of material. Under Building Regulations 1991, developers are warned that they must install systems to prevent flames from leaping from floor to floor. 

However the Fire Brigades Union and the Loss Prevention Council and the Buildings Research Establishment have frequently warned more recently that guidance is not adequate in the event of a fire. 

And fire safety experts said it was unlikely that firebreaks would have stopped the conflagration at Grenfell. 

Dr Stuart Smith, a building surveying and fire safety lecturer at Sheffield Hallam university, said: “The rate at which the building was burning suggests that even if the fire breaks were there, they didn’t work. 

“Once the fire had got into the cladding, the rate at which that burns, I’m not sure fire breaks would work anyway.” 

Jeremy Corbyn, who visited the community yesterday, to meet and speak with survivors and angry residents, said: “If you cut local authority expenditure then the price is paid somehow.” He was noting the failure to install a sprinkler system and to overhaul fire safety regulations. 

Residents say they sought to obtain legal advice over safety concerns but were prevented from doing so by cuts to legal aid. Other tower block residents, many of them among London’s poorest, have been anxiously contacting MPs for fear of a similar fate. 

Though fire crews were quick to arrive at the Kensington tower block (engines were there six minutes after being alerted), the effects of cuts were visible. “Put it this way, you’re meant to work on a fire for a maximum of four hours, we’ve been here for 12,” said one firefighter.

The Conservatives’ red tape bonfire

The Conservative’s Cutting Red Tape programme allows Business to tell Government how it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector.”  The Tories boast these “big successes” in getting rid of “unnecessary bureaucracy”:

  • Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge
  • Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards
  • £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%
  • Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job.
  • Childcare providers now have to read 33 pages of need to know guidance instead of wading through over 1,100 pages.

Apparently, “Cutting Red Tape wants to work with business, for business.”  I don’t see any benefit at all for citizens, or a democratic representation and reflection of public needs. Back in 2015, business Secretary Vince Cable and Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced that “better enforcement of regulation” is saving business more than £40 million every year. What that phrase actually means is not “better enforcement” – it’s deregulation. The Tories are masters of Doublespeak.

The Focus on Enforcement review programme, which asks firms to identify poor “enforcement practices” that “hold them back”, has benefited around one million businesses and boosted growth in 9 vital sectors of the economy from coastal developments to childcare. And building.

This builds on government action to scrap or reform regulatory rules which has saved firms some £10 billion over this parliament. It has also undermined health and safety legislation, consideration of which has a direct impact on the welfare of public.

The government is very “business friendly”, but when it comes to the public sector, the relationship is founded on a longstanding animosity.

Boris Johnson told a Labour opponent to “get stuffed”in 2013 when confronted over devastating fire service cuts.

Theresa May accused the Police Federation of “scaremongering” and “crying wolf”, when she was confronted over more cuts to the police. But the recognition and fear that emergency services can bear no further reductions is now becoming widespread.

And it’s also at last becoming very evident that those who have born the brunt of ideologically driven austerity cuts for the past 7 years, so that very wealthy people can pay less tax, are too often paying an unforgivable price for the savage cuts to our public emergency services, in one of the richest nations in the world.

 


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UN report: Britains ‘boy’s club culture’ – women in the UK are left vulnerable to violence, poverty & hardship


I wrote last year that Conservative small-state ideology has led to “depopulated” social policies, resuting in the dehumanisation of people in some social groups, and it indicates that Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects. Policies are inceasingly being detached from public needs. We therefore need to ask whose needs Conservative policies are fulfilling.

In 2010 the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned the government about its potential failure to meet its legal duties. This followed concerns raised by the Fawcett Society amongst others, regarding the estimated grossly disproportionate impact of the austerity cuts on women.

The Commission recognised the serious concerns about the impact of the deficit reduction measures on vulnerable groups and, in particular, following the House of Commons library report, the impact of the budget on women. The Commission stated:

We have written to the Treasury to ask for reassurance that they will comply with their equality duties when making decisions about the overall deficit reduction, and in particular in relation to any changes to tax and benefits for which they are directly responsible.”

A more inclusive understanding of the range of impacts on both men and women is essential in the formulation of gender-aware, as opposed to gender-blind, policy responses to recession and recovery. It’s clear that the UK government is not interested in collating information regarding impacts and subsequent implications regarding inequality, yet they do have a legal duty to do so.

A previous United Nations Committee report on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women highlights areas where women’s rights in the UK had come to a standstill and appallingly, shamefully, some rights have been reversed.

On August 13, 2013, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women released its concluding observations on the UK’s seventh periodic report on 26 July 2013.

Concerns raised by the Committee include protection from discrimination under the Public Sector Equality Duty, the impact of austerity measures on women and women’s services, and restrictions on women’s access to legal aid.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women on 1 July 2013. In its submission the Commission, as a national human rights institution, identifies key issues it believes should be highlighted as actions following the examination and sets out a number of questions the Committee may wish to put to the Government. You can see a full list here – UK Government still in breach of the human rights convention on gender discrimination.

Despite Labour’s protective Human Rights Act and Equality Act, Britain has become increasingly sexist, has an all-pervasive, patriarchal “boy’s club culture” and Conservative austerity measures are leaving women increasingly vulnerable to violence, poverty and hardship, the UN special rapporteur for women, Rashida Manjoo, has recently said.

The special rapporteur said there was “a more visible presence of sexist portrayals of women and girls” and a “marketisation of women’s and girls’ bodies” in the UK, which was “more pervasive than elsewhere.”

She warned that sexual bullying and harassment were now “routine” in UK schools, according to NGOs she had interviewed, and recommended that schools have mandatory education modules on sexism. “The state has a responsibility to protect, to prevent, to punish, to provide effective remedies,” she said. “These are part of the state’s responsibility.”

Rashida added: “Have I seen this level of sexist cultures in other countries? It hasn’t been so in-your-face.”

Amongst the figures quoted in her report are: 30% of women in England and Wales have reported experience of domestic abuse since the age of 16; 77 women were killed by partners or former partners in 2012-13; 18,915 sexual crimes against children were recorded in England and Wales in 2012-13; and almost one in three 16- to 18-year-old girls have experienced “groping” or other unwanted sexual touching at school.

The special rapporteur also drew attention to the disproportionate impact of funding cuts on the provision of services to women and girls at risk of violence, and the adverse consequenes of the Tory welfare “reforms.”

Access to trauma services, financial support and housing are crucial, yet current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues,” Rashida said.

She added that the austerity cuts “not only [affected] the specific provision of ‘violence against women’ services’, but also had a more general impact as poverty and unemployment were known contributory factors.”

“Service providers argue that they are being forced to make cuts to their frontline services as a result of reduced funding, whether by closing refuges, reducing support hours, or increasing waiting lists … current reforms to the funding and benefits system continue to adversely impact women’s ability to address safety and other relevant issues.”

Manjoo also heavily criticised the bedroom tax, she recognised that it makes it very difficult for women to escape domestic violence. She also attacked the Conservative government’s austerity programme.

She said: “Austerity measures are having an effect on the provision of services to address violence against women, as well as other cross-cutting issues affecting women such as poverty and unemployment.” 

Rashida Manjoo quite properly condemned the lack of human rights-driven government measures to combat violence against women and girls.

The special rapporteur, who travelled across the UK during a 16-day fact-finding mission into violence against women, said she was barred at the gates of Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre on Monday, on instructions “from the highest levels of the Home Office”.

Manjoo received reports of violations at the privately run Yarl’s Wood centre, near Bedford, before her visit to the UK, and said she wanted to verify the allegations of abuse. Last month a Jamaican woman, Christine Case, 40, died at the centre, which holds about 400 women.

After repeated unsuccessful requests to the Home Office, the investigator attempted an independent visit to Yarl’s Wood. Under the terms of her mandate, Manjoo should have been offered unrestricted access.  A Home Office spokesperson said a tour of Yarl’s Wood “was never agreed as part of this fact-finding mission.” 

So much for democratic, open, transparent and accountable government.

In her preliminary report, (and unsurprisingly,) Manjoo said the number of women detained in prisons and immigration centres in the UK was rising, with a significant over-representation of black and minority ethnic women.

“A large number of women in detention have a history of being subjected to violence prior to being imprisoned … the strong link between violence against women and women’s incarceration, whether prior to, during or after incarceration, needs to be fully acknowledged,” she said.

Manjoo also said the UK court system is “widely perceived to be biased in favor of men.

Rashida Manjoo’s full 24 page report is expected to be published later this year and will be presented at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.

The report’s findings echo the views of  many campaigners, including hundreds of psychotherapists, counsellors and mental health practitioners, who in April used a rallying, open letter to the Guardian to warn against “malign” welfare reforms and severe austerity measures.

The group of signatories, made up of therapists, psychotherapists and mental health experts, said Britain has seen a “radical shift” in the mental state of ordinary people since the coalition came to power.

British society has been “thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking” and the distress this is causing and the wide adverse effects of this ideology are particularly visible in therapists’ consulting rooms.

This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health,” they added.

A democratic government, especially in a very wealthy, so-called liberal first-world country, is expected to reflect and accommodate the needs of a population in its policy-making, and to formulate policies within a human rights framework.

That clearly is not happening in the UK.

 

Related

Welfare reforms and the language of flowers: the Tory gender agenda

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone


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David Cameron promised a further £7.2 BILLION tax cuts to the rich at the expense of the poor

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I wrote an article last year – Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor – which outlines Coalition policies that have widened inequalities and increased poverty by handing out public money to the wealthy that has been taken from the poorest. I pointed out that this Government have raided our tax-funded welfare provision and used it to provide handouts to the very wealthy – £107,000 EACH PER YEAR in the form of a tax break for millionaires, amongst other things.

And what does our imperturbable chancellor promise if this disgrace of a government is re-elected? True to Tory form, more of the same: austerity for the poor and public services cuts, and tax breaks for the wealthiest.

But further cuts to lifeline benefits and public services is surely untenable. Absolute poverty has risen dramatically, this past four years, heralding the return of Victorian illnesses that are associated with malnutrition. People have died as a consequence of the welfare “reforms”. Supporting the wealthy has already cost the poorest so very much, yet this callous, indifferent, morally nihilistic  government are casually discussing taking even more from those with the very least.

This isn’t anything to do with economic necessity: it’s all about Tory ideology. Under the guise of austerity, the Tory-led Coalition have stripped our welfare and public services down to the bare bones. Any further cuts will destroy what remains of our post-war settlement.

Despite facing a global recession, the Labour Government invested in our public services, and borrowed substantially less in thirteen years than the Coalition have in just three years. UK citizens were sheltered very well from the worst of the global bank-induced crash.

Gordon Brown got it right in his championing of the G20 fiscal stimulus, agreed at the London summit of early April 2010, which was a continuation of his policies that had served to steer the UK economy out of the consequences of a global recession, and to protect citizens from the consequences of cuts to services and welfare.

Osborne’s policy of imposing austerity and budget cuts on an economy that was actually recovering was a catastrophic error. The austerity propelled the economy backwards and into depression; and, far from using public spending as a countervailing force against the cutbacks in private sector investment, the Coalition’s budget cuts served to aggravate the crisis. Many people are suffering terribly as a consequence, reduced to a struggle for survival.

And in these socio-economic circumstances, the Tories have pledged a further £7.2 BILLION tax cuts to the rich. The funding for the tax cuts will come from further catastrophic “savings” made at the expense of the poorest yet again – £25 billion more to be sliced from welfare, Local Authorities,  education, police and other vital services.

Three things are immediately clear. Firstly, without the ramping up of VAT in 2010, to 20%, Osborne would be in even more dire financial straits than he is.

Secondly, income tax has, despite allegedly rising employment, failed to increase.

Thirdly, corporation tax, targeted for cuts, year after year, has slumped. The tax system is increasingly veering toward very regressive – biased in favour of the wealthy – consumption taxes, which affects the poorest, most, and failing to deliver fairer taxes on income.

This is the result of government policy: increasing VAT but cutting corporation tax, and the engineered kind of “recovery” we have ended up with. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) reminded us in October of the extent of the Coalition’s failure to reduce the deficit.

Public sector net borrowing in 2013-14 was originally expected to be £60 billion; the out-turn for borrowing was £108 billion (on a comparable basis). This amounts to a shortfall of nearly £50 billion, with borrowing approaching double the original predictions made when the government’s austerity policies were announced in 2010.

Much of this shortfall is accounted for by the current earnings crisis. UK workers are suffering the longest and most severe decline in real earnings since records began in Victorian times, according to an analysis published by the TUC. But Tories always lower wages, and hike up the cost of living. And whilst workers are struggling to make ends meet, private business owners/Tory donors are raking in millions of pounds. But this is exactly how Tories like to run society in a nutshell.

It’s their imposition of a feudalist schemata for social relationships. Cognitively, Tories are the equivalent of historical egocentric toddlers: they are stuck at this painful stage of arrested development.

“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement” – stated in the Coalition Agreement.

For a government whose raison d’etre is deficit reduction, the Coalition really isn’t very good at all. But austerity reflects the triumph of discriminatory Tory ideology over needs-led, evidenced-based policy making.

The OBR said the forecast from 2010 was over-optimistic because it did not take into consideration the effect of lower wages as well as a higher levels of tax-free personal allowance on the upper brackets of income tax. National Insurance contributions were also £7.4 billion below forecast.

Which brings us back to the issue of further tax cuts for the wealthy, with no mention of raising wages for the poorer work-force, and of course there is the promise of more cuts to come for those relying on lifeline benefits. I don’t think that the Coalition cares that their policies don’t balance the books, as it were, or mend the economy. Nor do they care what the consequences are for the wider public.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

The government’s failure to get wages growing again has not only left families far worse off than in 2010, it’s put the public finances in a mess too. The economy has become very good at creating low-paid jobs, but not the better paid work that brings in income tax. The Chancellor’s sums just don’t add up – he can’t make the tax cuts for the better off that he is promising and meet his deficit reduction target without making cuts to public services.

His cuts would be so deep that no government could deliver them without doing damage to both the economy and the fabric of our society. We can’t cut our way out of this problem any more than we can dig ourselves out of a hole. More austerity would only keep us stuck in a downward spiral. The Chancellor should use next week’s Autumn Statement to invest in growth and to put a wages recovery at the top of the agenda.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said:

Nobody will be fooled by pie in the sky promises of tax cuts when David Cameron cannot tell us where the money is coming from. Even the Tories admit this is an unfunded commitment of over £7 billion, so how will they pay for it? Will they raise VAT on families and pensioners again?

Cameron has also announced the basic rate before we start paying tax would rise from £10,500 to £12,500. While a worker on £12,500 would save £500 a year, someone earning £50,000 would keep £1,900 extra.

Those earning up to £123,000 would be £484 richer. Someone on £12,500 would save £500 a year, while someone on up to £50,000 would keep £1,900 extra. And the £500 tax cut for basic rate earners will be almost wiped out by George Osborne’s raid on in-work benefits.

Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank says it was:

very difficult to see how the £7billion tax giveaway could be paid for.

We’re looking at promises of £7billion of tax giveaways in the context of an overall plan to get the deficit down but even without tax giveaways that requires pretty extraordinary levels of spending cuts such that most government departments will see their spending cut by a third by 2020.

How are you going to afford this? Even more dramatic spending cuts?

At the Tory Conference, Cameron promised to expand the National Citizen Service youth project for every teenager in the country, have the lowest rate of corporation tax of any major economy.

There was also a pledge to abolish youth unemployment by the end of the decade. But the Tory faithful gave the loudest applause for his pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act.

This is a truly terrifying pledge, because human rights were originally formulated as an international response to the atrocities of the 2nd World war, and to ensure that citizens are protected from abuses of their government.

A Labour Party analysis found the proposed tax break would hand David Cameron and other Cabinet ministers an extra £132 a year. But a family with two children with one earner on £25,000 a year would lose £495 by 2017-17 due to the benefits freeze announced by Mr Osborne.

The Tory plan is based solely on spending cuts, mainly directed at the working age poor. And the Conservative plan to raise the higher rate threshold to £50,000 means that  working-age poor people are to fund a tax cut that is four times greater for higher rate tax payers than for basic rate taxpayers.

Ed Balls said in response:

David Cameron’s speech showed no recognition that working people are £1,600 a year worse off under the Tories nor that the NHS is going backwards on their watch. The only concrete pledge we’ve had from the Tories this week is a promise to cut tax credits by hundreds of pounds for millions of hard working people while keeping a £3 billion tax cut for the richest one per cent.

TUC general Secretary Frances O’Grady added:

No amount of dressing up can hide the fact that the policies in this speech pass by those who need the most help to reward richer voters.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

What was missing in the PM’s speech was any recognition that independent projections show that child poverty rates are set to soar. We know that raising the personal tax allowance is an ineffective way of supporting low paid families.Independent analysis shows that just 15% of the £12 billion required to raise the PTA to £12,500 would go to working families in the lowest-income half of the population.

Many simply don’t earn enough to benefit from this policy, and those that do just see their benefits and tax credits withdrawn as their incomes rise.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies showed in their Green Budget publication this year that just 15% of the gains from increasing the personal allowance would benefit the poorest half of Britons, concluding:

There are better ways to help the low paid via the tax and benefit system.

Ex-Treasury official James Meadway,  now a senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, said Cameron’s changes were:

irresponsible, expensive gimmicks that scarcely affect the poorest workers.

They imply swingeing public sector cuts and mean handing over more cash to the already rich.

Ed Miliband will respond tomorrow (Monday), declaring that the Tories’ failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis has helped cost the Exchequer £116.5 billion – leading to higher borrowing and broken promises on the deficit. The price tag, equivalent to almost £4,000 for every taxpayer, is based on new research from the House of Commons Library being published by the Labour Party.

This shows that low pay and stagnant salaries, combined with soaring housing costs and the failure to tackle root causes of increased welfare bills, means that over the course of this Parliament:

  • Income tax receipts have fallen short of forecasts by more than £66 billion.
  • National Insurance Contributions are £25.5 billion lower than expected.
  • Spending on social security is £25 billion higher than planned [despite brutal cuts to lifeline benefits]

Mr Miliband is expected to say the test for George Osborne in this week’s Autumn Statement will be to set out a plan to build a recovery for working people – one which recognises the link between the living standards and Britain’s ability get the deficit down.

He is expected to say:

For a very long time, our country has worked well for a few people, but not for everyday people. “We live in a country where opportunities are too skewed to those at the top, where too many people work hard for little reward, where too many young people can’t find a job or apprenticeship worthy of their talents, and where families can’t afford to buy a home of their own.

For all the Government’s boasts about a belated economic recovery, there are millions of families still caught in the most prolonged cost-of-living crisis for a century.  For them this is a joy-less and pay-less recovery.

My priority as Prime Minister will be tackling that cost-of-living crisis so that hard work is properly rewarded again, so that our children can dream of a better future, so that our public services including the NHS are safe.

Building a recovery that works for everyday people is the real test of the Autumn Statement.

But that isn’t a different priority to tackling the deficit. Building a recovery that works for most people is an essential part of balancing the books.

The Government’s failure to build a recovery that works for every-day people and tackle the cost-of-living crisis isn’t just bad for every person affected, it also hampers our ability to pay down the deficit.

Britain’s public finances have been weakened by a Tory-led Government overseeing stagnant wages which keep tax revenues low.

Britain’s public finances have been weakened by Tory policies which focus on low paid, low skilled, insecure jobs – often part-time or temporary – because they do not raise as much revenue as the high skill, high wage opportunities we need to be creating.

And our public finances have been weakened by higher social security bills to subsidise low paid jobs and the chronic shortage of homes.   

The result has been David Cameron and George Osborne missing every single target they set themselves on clearing the deficit and balancing the books by the end of this parliament.

Their broken promises, their abject failure, are not an accident. They are the direct result of an outdated ideology which says all a Government has to do is look after a privileged few at the top and everyone else will follow.

That is why this Government has done a great job of squeezing the middle, but a bad job of squeezing the deficit.

The test this week for David Cameron and George Osborne is whether they recognise that Britain will only succeed and prosper for the long term by tackling the cost-of-living crisis and building a recovery which works for the many, not just for a few.

Or whether they will just offer more of the same old ideas that have failed them, failed everyday working people, and failed Britain over the past four years.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the brilliant memes